China is continuing to develop anti-satellite weapons aimed at reducing a huge military advantage held over the People’s Liberation Army by the United States.
According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, China’s ongoing anti-satellite effort is focusing on “co-orbital space weapons” and “a terrestrial laser, to be used for blinding satellite optics.”
Chinese laser weapons development dates back to the 1960s, as reported in 1999 by WorldNetDaily. Beijing’s laser technology is thought to equal or surpass U.S. capabilities, analysts said then.
Also, quoting Asia arms experts and published Chinese reports, WND reported on China’s anti-satellite development in January.
The Jane’s report said China’s anti-satellite weapons programs are said “to have benefited both from PRC (People’s Republic of China) research and development” from the 1980s and beyond, “and the transfer of Cold War-era space weapon technology from Russia.”
WND said one of the new Chinese weapons is designed to “stick” to the body of enemy satellites so as to go unnoticed, then rendering it ineffective through jamming when activated.
Anti-satellite programs, known by the acronym ASAT, are of increasing concern to U.S. military planners because of the Pentagon’s reliance on space-based command, control and guidance satellites. Civilian leaders are worried because of the damage ASATs could do to domestic communications and infrastructure-support satellites.
Jane’s said the Chinese are already ground testing their programs and will begin flight testing them in 2002.
One aspect of the ASAT program is said to be based on Soviet-developed co-orbital techniques that were perfected in the 1980s.
“The kill mechanism of the PRC ASAT remains uncertain from published reports,” Jane’s said, but the Soviet-developed system envisioned “a large orbital vehicle using a fragmentation warhead as its kill mechanism — probably the most likely approach” for a Chinese ASAT weapon.
The magazine Foreign Affairs said in this month’s issue that the U.S. also experimented with similar “rudimentary” ASAT vehicles in the 1980s. The magazine said both Washington and Moscow had developed crude ASAT capabilities, but little further development — at least by the Pentagon — had been conducted since then.
Echoing the details of the January WND report, Jane’s said “there are unconfirmed reports that the kill mechanism [of the Chinese ASAT] is a micro- or nano-satellite capable of flying close to the target satellite or even attaching itself as a parasite. …”
That vehicle, Jane’s confirmed, “is also reported to have the option for the non-lethal jamming of a satellite as well as destroying it.”
But, the weekly defense publication said, terrestrial optical sensors “are likely to be able to detect” even such small satellite “parasites” in low earth orbit.
China is known to be working on such systems, but current micro-satellites which have an on-board propulsion system are intended only for space-based station keeping.
“None have had the amount of fuel [onboard] to match the orbit of another satellite, let alone dock with a target,” Jane’s said.
Despite the uncertainty of the details of China’s nano-satellite development, ASAT programs remain vibrant within the Chinese military nonetheless. The laser weapon concept has also been investigated by the U.S. — tested even, against an old Air Force satellite last year — and is part of China’s “asymmetric warfare” program, designed to develop cost-effective, technologically simple concepts of warfare to combat complex U.S. systems.